How A&W is using food donations to fight waste


Last month we covered how A&W is reducing waste with its eco-friendly packaging program. But packaging isn’t the only type of waste that this industry heavyweight is dedicated to diminishing. A&W has shown their commitment to reducing food waste through their use of a food donation supply chain. This goes hand in hand with the goals set by the National Zero Waste Council (NZWC) to drastically cut the annual amount of food waste in Canada, which is currently estimated to have a value of approximately $31 billion. Factor in the cost of other resources wasted during the food production process, and the economic value balloons to $100,000 billion. Clearly this is a massive issue to tackle, but A&W has created a food donations program to address the problem head-on.

Food donations are imperative to reducing food waste. Many countries, most notably the US and UK, have successfully implemented initiatives that ensure food is diverted from landfills to food banks. However, this does not come without its challenges. Companies that choose to take part in food donations incur additional costs associated with sorting, storing and transporting food donations; this can be a major disincentive for businesses to donate food. One possible solution could be a tax incentive that allows businesses to offset some of these additional expenses. The NZWC suggests that to ensure food donations meet a certain standard, tax receipts would be issued only for food received that is deemed safe and fit for human consumption. Should a company, like A&W, choose to take part in a food donation initiative, the NZWC has pledged their support in helping to distribute food and co-developed materials. So far, the NZWC has gained the support of 22 local governments in their campaign for a federal tax incentive. A&W Food donations

How A&W has implemented food donations — and how you can too:

1. Assess your supply

A&W had previously permitted all their distribution partners to donate on A&W’s behalf, but the company decided to establish direct relationships with agencies across the country to process their food donations.

Our recommendation to all companies considering donating food is to adequately assess the size of your company’s supply chain before choosing how to best distribute your donations.

Be sure to consider what specific foods you plan to donate, as food banks need certain types of food more than others. You can usually find a list of the most in-demand items listed on their website. Also check whether your food products can even be donated, because some types of food may not be seen as fit for consumption due to safety issues. As such, it’s best to familiarize yourself with your province’s food donation criteria before donating. For an excellent resource, check out the BC Centre for Disease Control’s Industry Food Donation Guidelines. It includes a useful Food Donation Decision Matrix to determine if your food is appropriate for donations.

2. Collaborate with partners

Any project is made easier with the help of partners, and A&W works collaboratively with several organizations to realize their food donation ambitions. The company has developed partnerships with organizations across the country, from BC’s Quest Food Exchange and Winnipeg Harvest to Feed Nova Scotia and Ontario’s Second Harvest. There are a variety of different types of organizations that a company can donate to, and the decision is yours to make. Examples of possible candidates include charities, social service agencies, local governments and faith-based groups. No matter who you choose to work with, it is important to collaborate together in a long-term relationship with clear expectations and a common goal.

Record it

The BC Centre for Disease Control recommends that restaurants and their partners work together to ensure that their food donations are traceable. This is done for legal, reporting and tax reasons; it also helps your company set a baseline for your efforts. A&W has been recording their food donations since 2016 and to date, they have donated a whopping 26,000 pounds of food from their supply chain. This shows the dramatic impact that donations can have when it comes to reducing food waste.


The Food Waste Reduction Working Group

Besides being one of the only corporate members of the NZWC, A&W also has a seat at the NZWC’s Food Waste Reduction working group. One of the initiatives of the working group is to communicate an effective Food Waste Reduction Strategy. The goal of this strategy is to redirect the large amounts of food waste currently disposed of in landfills towards alternative strategies that directly benefit the Canadian economy, people and environment. At the base of the strategy is policy change, innovation and behaviour change through consumer and business engagement.

To date, the Food Waste Reduction working group has participated in informational webinars, various stakeholder engagement events and has developed food donation guidelines.

Additional Resources

Want to learn more about how your restaurant can reduce waste through food donations? The NZWC offers valuable information on their website, including:

Interested in following in A&W’s footsteps and implementing your own food supply chain donation system? There are several Canadian organizations you can consider partnering with, including Ontario’s Second Harvest (which is the largest food rescue organization in Canada), Food Banks Canada, Quest Food Exchange, Greater Vancouver Food Bank, Food Banks Alberta, Winnipeg Harvest and Feed Nova Scotia.

Finally, don’t forget to review the guidelines pertaining to your province, like the BC Centre for Disease Control’s Industry Food Donation Guidelines and Alberta Health Service’s Guidelines for the Distribution of Donated Food.

For more information on setting up your own food supply chain donation program, send us an email at

Author Trish Hudson

Trish is the owner and principal at Holistic Hospitality Solutions. She aims to help assess her clients operations from top to bottom in order to gain efficiencies, save money, and increase their bottom line.

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